When Trump health officials first proposed rules a year ago that would allow some employers to deny insurance coverage of birth control on religious or moral grounds, they drew vehement protests from civil liberties and women’s rights advocates, along with Democrats in Congress and in state attorneys general offices.
On Wednesday, the administration administered final versions of those two rules, to take effect in slightly more than two months, even as legal issues with the draft rules play out in court.
The rules notch a deep exception to a federal requirement under the Obama-era interpretation of the Affordable Care Act that essential health benefits must include coverage of contraception at no charge to consumers.
The circumvention of this mandate is part of the administration’s alliance with social conservatives for whom “religious liberty” has become a central cause and who had objected to the contraceptive mandate.
Two lawsuits by attorneys general prompted federal judges in California and Pennsylvania to grant nationwide injunctions against the proposals, while the administration has prevailed in another case. They now are all before appellate courts.
In a statement accompanying the rules’ final version, Health and Human Services officials said on Wednesday that the Affordable Care Act does not contain a contraception requirement and that the law does “not require the government to violate religious or moral objections to providing or purchasing such coverage.”
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the branch of HHS that oversees much of the ACA, proposed a new rule on Wednesday that is similar in spirit, requiring a greater separation of billing in ACA health plans for the part of coverage relating to abortion services that cannot be paid for with federal money.
HHS officials downplayed the impact of the contraceptive rules, as they did when first proposing the idea. They predicted that the exemptions will be invoked by “no more than approximately 200 employers” and affect the coverage of birth control for perhaps 6,400 women.
Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, predicted, however, that the new policy “is going to rob tens of thousands or possibly hundreds of thousands of women of their benefit that they’re guaranteed by law.” The ACLU has supported the two lawsuits challenging the rules.